It is one of the most important ideas in the New Testament. Being “in Christ.” Unified “with Christ.” Paul alone uses the phrase “in Christ” (or some variation, like “in Jesus” or “in him”) over 160 times. And as we’ll see below, we can sum up Christianity with these words “in Christ.”
What I’ve noticed, however, is that we Christians, especially in today’s gospel-centered circles, can hear this terminology but often not clearly know what it means. We hear that our “identity is in Jesus,” that we're "united to him," that "it's all about Jesus," but what does this mean?
I hope in this post to give a helpful, succinct answer. We’ll look at one paragraph in the Bible, containing four major “in Christ” truths, to understand what this phrase means. We’ll see why our lives as Christians truly are—not in some vague sense, but in rock-solid reality—“all about Jesus.”
“Christ Is Your Life”
The paragraph is Colossians 3:1-4. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is mainly about Jesus and about how the Christian faith is focused on who he is.
This Christ-centeredness comes full force in Colossians 3:1-4. It’s a paragraph in which Paul even goes so far as to tell each Christian that “Christ is your life.” Here’s the paragraph in full:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Christ “is your life.” What does this mean?
4 Ways Christ Is Your Life
We see him explain it in this one paragraph with four truths about the Christian:
“You have died” (v. 3)
“You have been raised with Christ” (v. 1)
“Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3)
“You also will appear with him in glory” (v. 4)
Now ask yourself: Who died, rose, is in God’s presence, and will appear in glory?
Clearly, Jesus himself.
Yet notice, here it is us Christians. Wehave died, been raised, are in God, and will appear in glory.
But importantly, why? See what Paul says in the text. The reason why is because in each of these we are connected “with Christ.” “You have been raised with Christ.” “Your life is hidden with Christin God.” “You also will appear with himin glory.” (The link is implied, as we’ll see, in the “you have died” statement.)
So, here we have Paul explaining what it means that “Christ is your life.” He’s showing the importance of having our identity in Christ, being united to Christ.
But we’re still in the land of vague explanation. Let’s break it down more, because by doing so we start to see what this union with Christ actually means, and why it's so precious.
Dead, Alive, Secure, Going to Glory
Let’s dissect what each of these four truths means for us as Christians. As we do so, we’ll see how central union with Jesus truly is.
1. You Were Crucified
”You have died.” The New Testament is clear our sins forgiven by Jesus. But it gets more specific. The reasonour sins are forgiven is because in a real sense, our old self of sin died on that cross with him. It’s not just that Jesus died for our sins. It’s that we died with himon that cross. We—our sins and old self—died there. Our sins were truly punished. In a verse beloved by many, Paul declares, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
So, we’re united with Christ on the cross, and that’s why we’re forgiven. It’s not merely that he took our sins. It’s that we died there too. Our our self of sin died. And this is why, by the way, God cannotsend a believer to hell. Your sins deserve eternal death—that is, hell. But on the cross, they were dealt with. They were paid for. In Christ, you’ve already had that dead in this sense. Those sins of yours were truly paid for on Jesus’ cross—on yourcross. You and all my sins have been crucified with Christ. “You have died.”
2. You’re Alive
”You have been raised with Christ.”The Christian life is not merely or mainly one of forgiveness. Instead, it’s about being made alive (Ephesians 2:5), a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), being raised to newness of life (Romans 6:4). “Eternal life” is not mainly about living forever (although that’s true), it’s about possessing true life, what God always intended life to be, both now and forever.
But whydo we have new and eternal life? It’s not because God just gave it to us. It’s because we’re united to Jesus. Herose after dying for our sins, and he’sfully alive eternally. We’re connected to him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his glorious life. This alone is why we have true life now, and why we’ll have it forever. “You have been raised with Christ.”
3. You’re Secure in God’s Love
“Your life is hidden with Christ in God.”Jesus died, rose, but that’s not it. Right now he is in God’s presence, fully loved by his Father, secure forevermore.
And what this somewhat confusing sentence is essentially saying is we too are secure in God’s presence and love. Our life is “hidden.” Hidden, not like a flippant game of hide-and-go-seek, but like being protected from an oncoming attack. Our life is safe, secure, hidden in God’s love.
But whyare we securely loved? It isn’t just because God loves us and will keep us secure. Instead, it’s because he fully loves and keeps his Sonsecure, and we’re connected to him.It’s Jesus alone who right now is “hidden in God,” and we’re connected to him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his being in the Father’s love and presence right now. This alone is why we’re loved and secure. “Your life is hidden with Christin God.”
4. You’re Going to Glory
”You also will appear with him in glory.”We Christians will go to heaven (or more specifically, be part of the New Heavens and New Earth). We will, as Paul says here, “appear in glory.”
But whywill we be in glory? Not because God just will give us entrance. Not even mainly because we’re forgiven. Those are true, but not the reason. We’ll be in glory because we’re “with him.” Jesusdeserves to be in glory, and our identity is in him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his future, in being in glory. That’s why we’ll be in glory, because we’re connected to him. “You also will appear with himin glory.”
All About Jesus
This in a nutshell is an explanation of our union with Christ. The Christian’s identity is about Jesus. What happened to him identifies and defines us. What’s true of him becomes true of us.
So Christians, let’s make it crystal clear:
The reason you and I are forgivenis not just that God forgives. It’s because Jesus literally bore your actual sins and you in a sense died on the cross with him with your sins 2,000 years ago. You now cannotgo to hell because your old self and sins died there. You were crucified with him(Galatians 2:20).
The reason you and I have new lifeis not just that God gives new life. It’s because Jesus has this unshakable, forever, glorious new life, and we’re connected to him. Jesus’ life is never going to die, or fade away, and that’s why neither will ours. Because Jesus’ life is eternal, that’s why oursis eternal. You’ve been raised with him.
The reason you and I are securely lovedis not because God just loves us. (This is important for us to hear.) It’s because the Father deeply loves Jesus, and we’re connected to him. The Father’s love for Jesus will never fade or diminish, and that’s why God’s love for us will never do so. He forever has and forever will love Jesus, and we’re connected to him.
The reason why you and I will be in gloryis not just because God will let us in, or because we’re forgiven. Instead, it’s because it’s Jesus’heaven, and we’re connected to him. Think of it this way: There’s no chance that God will have the new heavens and new earth be without Jesus. Jesus will be there. And so will we, because we’re linked with him.*
With clarity, therefore, we can declare that we’re forgiven, have eternal life, are loved and secure in God, and will be in heaven all because we’re connected to Jesus. He alone died for sins, is truly alive, is forever secure and loved by the Father, and deserves to be in glory. The good news of the gospel—of Christianity as a whole—is that we can be linked with him. What’s true of him becomes true of us because of our union with him.
“Upon Him Rests All My Hope”
So, salvation, love, purpose, peace truly are all summed up as being “in Christ.” He, not in ourselves, is our only hope for these things. We bank our lives on him. John Newton, the writer who penned “Amazing Grace,” described this well,
My feelings are faint; my services feeble and defiled; my defects, mistakes, and omissions innumerable, my imaginations are wild as the clouds in a storm; yea, too often foul as a common sewer. What can I set against this mournful confession? Only this, — That Christ hath died and risen again…Upon his person, worth, and promise,rests all my hope; but this is a foundation able to bear the greatest weight” (Quoted in Ian Murray, Heroes, 116.)
Christian be encouraged, “Christ is your life.”
It truly is “all about Jesus.”
*It is important to point out that the paragraph begins with “if.” “If you have been raised…” To be clear, this means this connection to Jesus is not true of everyone. It is only true of those who genuinely trust Jesus. This means:
For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, they have not died to sin on the cross with Christ, which is why they will die an eternal death in their sins in hell one day.
For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, they do not have true, eternal life, now nor forever.
For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, this is why they are not securely in the Father’s love. The Father’s love in the Bible is mainly towards his people. It is his people in Christ who are securely loved.
For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, this is why they will not be in heaven nor the future renewed earth.
So again, it all comes down to Jesus and being connected to him. And there’s an “if.” For those who don’t genuinely trust him (which sadly does include many confessing believers, see Luke 8:13-14; Matthew 7:21-23), their identity is still in themselves, which that is a tragic reality now and forever.